Election 2020

What Iowa Caucuses? TV Networks Bury 2020 Dems in Avalanche of Impeachment Coverage

What Iowa Caucuses? TV Networks Bury 2020 Dems in Avalanche of Impeachment Coverage
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In the month before the Iowa caucuses, the big three television news networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — effectively buried news about the Democrats running for president in 2020 by giving nearly three times as much coverage to the impeachment of President Donald Trump.


A Media Research Center study found that the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts spent 236 minutes on impeachment in January. By contrast, the networks spent 88 minutes on the Democratic race, with 22 minutes of that time actually focused on impeachment! Those 22 minutes involved recounting how former Vice President Joe Biden was targeted for investigation in Ukraine or how the impeachment trial would affect the Democratic senators running for president.

That left 66 minutes of airtime dedicated to the Democratic presidential candidates, with impeachment receiving 3.6 times the amount of coverage.

Media Research Center chart plotting time the big three networks spent on impeachment and the time they spent on the 2020 Democratic race.

In the 130 days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry on September 24, the networks’ evening shows have spent a combined 1,082 minutes on impeachment, compared to 302 minutes on the Democratic race (112 minutes of which also concerned impeachment). The networks effectively dedicated five times as much coverage to impeachment as to the 2020 Democratic race.

The imbalance seems particularly noteworthy, given that the Senate is almost certain to acquit Trump while the 2020 Democratic primary is extremely competitive and hard to predict.

The networks spent the most time on Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR), for 32 minutes. The Media Research Center faulted the networks for spending only two minutes of that time covering Sanders’ extreme socialist policies.

Biden came second with 27 minutes, but the networks spent 11 of those minutes discussing Biden as a potential target of investigations in Ukraine. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-1/1024th of a Plan) received 10 minutes of airtime, most of it focused on her claim that Sanders told her privately that a woman could not win the 2020 election.


Media Research Center chart of time the big three TV networks spent on 2020 Dems.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s modeling, Sanders is most likely to win the Iowa caucuses (41 percent chance) with 28 percent of the vote. Biden has the second-best chance of winning (32 percent), with an estimated 26 percent of the vote. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (14 percent chance of winning) is likely to win 19 percent of the vote and Warren (10 percent chance) is likely to win 16 percent.

Candidates have to win 15 percent of the vote in order to receive any pledged delegates.

It certainly seems odd that these left-leaning outlets would bury the 2020 Democrats on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Then again, maybe they just find Trump more interesting.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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